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Honourable Timothy Andrew Fischer AC

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Tags: Port Arthur, Condolence

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Madam Deputy Speaker, on behalf of Dr Woodruff and me, I also want to take a moment to reflect on the life of, and pay tribute to, Tim Fischer. When I was looking at the stories of Tim Fischer's life I felt nostalgic for a time in Australian politics where integrity, decency and humility were core to political purpose. They are the qualities Tim Fischer brought to public life. We can disagree with some of his positions on issues, but no-one would argue against describing Mr Fischer as a man of great integrity, honesty, kindness and humility.

When great people like former prime minister Bob Hawke and former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer die, it should give us, as well as leaders in our community, an opportunity for self-reflection. What was it about those two great characters that people loved and respected so much? What should we be seeking to emulate in public life? I think more kindness, please, as the Dalai Lama has said, authenticity, integrity, being a humble person and always having time, as Tim Fischer clearly did, to listen to other people's stories. He had an incredible wide-ranging life and it was very clear that he just loved people and was really interested in the lives of not only his constituents but of all people in Australia, and particularly in regional and rural Australia.

He was a gentleman of Australian politics who is remembered very fondly across the political spectrum. I was listening to the Premier talking about when Tim Fischer left parliament and there was a standing ovation, even from the press gallery. That is the mark of the man and how deeply he was respected.

From a Tasmanian's point of view, as others have mentioned, we owe Tim Fischer an enormous debt of gratitude after the Port Arthur massacre, when it became clear that Australia needed stronger gun laws. The then prime minister John Howard committed to strengthening gun laws. He had a conversation with Tim Fischer about the need to change the policy. It is reported that Mr Fischer said, 'This is going to be a hard sell in the bush, but I am up for it'. He had the courage to go back to country towns, into regional Australia and argue for stronger gun laws. It created, for the Nationals particularly, real difficulties because people in the bush felt that something was being taken away from them.

Tim Fischer's legacy, along with John Howard, I have to say it was the single great thing he did as prime minister, was to make sure that we are a country where people do not have to feel afraid of sending their children to school because there is such a proliferation of lethal weapons in our community.

Tim Fischer was born on 3 May 1946. He is a boy from Boree Creek in the Riverina. He was public school educated at primary school then went to the Catholic Xavier College. The event in his life which perhaps shaped him more than any other was his conscription to Vietnam in 1966, where he met his duty as an Australian soldier without doubt. He came back from Vietnam injured in a way that was not obvious at first but which affected him for the rest of his life. It was the widespread use of the exfoliant Agent Orange that Mr Fischer attributed to his later life battles with cancer, with leukemia.

He was an unusual and outstanding advocate for understanding the lives of people with Asperger's or who were on the autism spectrum. His son, Harrison, was diagnosed with autism while Mr Fischer was serving in Canberra. It reminded me of the climate activist Greta Thunberg's statement recently that she believes autism is a superpower. There is a lot to be said for a deeper understanding of the gifts that people who are on the autism spectrum can bring to our community.

I acknowledge that the Australian political landscape has lost a very good man. He died too early. He was 73 when cancer took him. He had a lot more to give. From a personal point of view, anytime I saw Tim Fischer on television or heard him on the radio I wanted to listen to what he said because he had a uniquely honest view of the world and a way of expressing himself that was direct, quirky and empathetic. Even though he was fiercely opposed to improving the human rights of gay people and fought some of the native title policies at a federal level, I never felt that came from a dark place inside Tim. He was clearly a devout Catholic, a person of faith, and his views on some of those issues were reflected by that background.

His job was to defend regional communities and the pastoralists in regional communities. That is why he opposed native title. It is interesting that later in life he was clearly a man who was not driven by a desire to discriminate or be a bigot or a racist. Every part of his public contribution following his departure from federal parliament was designed to be inclusive.

Vale Tim Fischer. We need more people in political life with the courage and the integrity and the humility of Tim Fischer. I had to disagree with what the Premier said about Mr Fischer not being suited to the political arena. I believe if we have more people in politics and in public life with the courage -

Mr Hodgman - Out of context. I did not think that. Some said that.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, okay. I will take that on board. If we had more people in political life with the courage, integrity and empathy of Tim Fischer, Australia would be a much better place. In these hard times, when it seems like the country is tilting towards the right and a police state, we would all do well to reflect on the qualities of one of the great conservative politicians who was loved and respected across the political spectrum.

Even as we move past this condolence debate in which people say all the right things, I hope that members of this House reflect on the qualities that make for a very positive contribution to public life. Tim Fischer, in his many years in public life from the New South Wales parliament to the federal parliament to the Holy See, has made a very positive contribution to the fabric of this country.

On behalf of the Tasmanian Greens, I say vale Tim Fischer, and pass on our love and condolences to his wife, Judy, and his sons, Dominic and Harrison.